Employment Law
Employment Law

Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill

The Domestic Violence – Victims’ Protection Bill was introduced in March this year by Greens MP, Jan Logie, with the aim of offering greater protection in employment to victims of domestic violence. As it stands, the Bill proposes changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Holidays Act 2003 and the Human Rights Act 1993.

The Bill proposes that an employee who is a victim of domestic violence may take up to 10 days’ additional leave per year, regardless of how long ago the domestic violence occurred. The Bill states that “an employee who intends to take domestic violence leave must notify the employer of that intention as early as possible before the employee is due to start work on the day that is intended to be taken as domestic violence leave, or if that is not practicable, as early as possible after that time.” An employer must accept this request, unless the employee fails to provide proof that they are affected by domestic violence, as requested by the employer.

The Bill is currently at the Committee of the Whole House, and will progress through to its third and final reading in late July/early August. It is anticipated that the Bill will pass into law with little support from the National Party.

In the explanatory note of the Domestic Violence – Victim’s Protection Bill, Jan Logie states:

Domestic violence has a damaging, yet often hidden, impact on victims’ lives. The protections of this Bill acknowledge the harm experienced by victims and the influence in the workplace of that harm. The Bill supports victims to stay in paid employment, maintaining productivity and reducing recruitment and training costs for employers. Staying in employment is critical to reducing the effects of violence. Secure employment enables victims to maintain domestic and economic stability and assists them to find a pathway out of violence and to successfully rebuild their lives.
The abuser may make it hard for a victim to get to work or target the victim at work. The most common form of domestic violence experienced at work is abusive calls and emails. The strain of dealing with domestic violence can undermine a worker’s productivity, performance, and well-being. Victims are particularly vulnerable in the workplace. This is due to the predictability of their location or working hours or both.
Domestic violence does not easily fit the definitions and circumstances of other forms of workplace violence, such as workplace bullying or violence from customers or clients. This Bill addresses this current gap in legislation.
We know that a significant number of victims who are killed have not been in touch with support agencies but their work colleagues have either known or suspected domestic violence. This makes the workplace a primary place for intervention.

Jan Logie explains that the Bill is a benefit for employers; it will keep victims of domestic violence employed and will therefore reduce the need to recruit and train additional staff when that victim resigns. Ms Logie also states that by providing a healthier workplace, that victims of domestic violence will be more productive and will be able to contribute better to the workplace. However, a contrary view exists. Abusers can still show up at the place of employment. If an abuser is trying to prevent a victim from attending work; 10 days’ leave won’t be enough. If a victim is ready to leave their abuser, 10 days simply isn’t enough.

Let’s look at it from another angle. How far does this requirement cross the boundaries between the personal and professional relationship? Or, in other words, where will the Domestic Violence Bill sit with your privacy rights? If your direct manager were to falsely assume that an employee was a victim of domestic violence, how would this make the employee feel? The employee may feel themselves in a situation where they feel they have to divulge aspects of their personal lives to explain away any concerns the employer has. There are many other reasons that an employee may repeatedly turn up to work with bruises; none of which involve domestic violence. However, some of these reasons may not be appropriate to share with the employer or may be highly personal.

It could be considered that the Bill sends a dangerous message; why is domestic violence more deserving of additional leave than any other victim of a traumatic experience? There also appears to be no time-limit on when the domestic violence must have occurred. If, for example, Jane left her abusive husband before starting employment with Company X, upon receiving an official request with the required documentation, it will be required to provide her with those 10 additional days in a one-year period. There is a risk that this will raise animosity between employees. Why does Jane get an additional 10 days leave per year for domestic violence she suffered two years ago, but others only get four week’s leave? How is an employer to fairly and reasonably work through these issues?

It appears to be a shift to move responsibility away from the government and onto employers. As a country, New Zealand has among the highest rates of domestic violence in the world. This is concerning, not only because it is happening, but because steps to date have failed to bring these rates down. However, it is not a cost or responsibility that should be borne by the employer. Small to medium businesses will struggle not only with the additional cost, but also the impact of finding staff to cover shifts. If the government truly believes that 10 days’ additional leave per year will help the problem, then why has it not come to the party and offered tax rebate to employers to help mitigate their losses? Better yet, why not expand the ACC scheme, so that victims can take time away from their employment, whilst remaining employed, and be compensated for this time? As it stands, with regards to domestic violence, ACC may cover treatment for physical injuries, mental injuries as a result of physical injuries, mental injuries as a result of sexual violence, compensation for lost income if a victim is unable to work due to their injuries, and compensation for travel associated with ACC-covered treatment. Is it so far-fetched that ACC be broadened to provide victims with 10 days compensation per year?

The topic is too serious and ingrained to be fixed with a “sticky plaster” solution such as this. There are many options that the government could take on itself to explore; it should not be shifted to the employers.

To view the full Domestic Violence – Victim’s Protection Bill, click here.

Published on Monday, July 23rd, 2018, under Blog

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